Water for pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) projects

How PHES uses water

Pumped hydro energy storage (PHES) uses the force of moving water to create electricity. PHES is capable of rapidly providing power on-demand, to supply electricity when it is needed.

The design of PHES projects depends on the landscape and other environmental factors. They usually have 2 water reservoirs positioned so that water can flow from the higher reservoir to the lower one. This movement is used to generate electricity.

Reservoirs that are constructed on a watercourse, will interfere with the flow of water, and must be authorised under the Water Act 2000 (Qld). For PHES, the diversion and recirculation of water from the lower reservoir to the upper and back to the lower reservoir is part of that interference.

A fully self-contained PHES project will generally rely on an initial fill of its reservoirs and replenishment of accumulated system losses over time. If reservoirs are constructed on a watercourse and filling occurs through natural inflows and through the recirculation process, this does not constitute take of water.

Water assessment for PHES projects

The complexity of each scheme and its impacts will dictate how it is assessed and what authorisations it will need.

Simple schemes must:

  • be a closed system
  • use infrastructure only for PHES and not supply water to other users
  • not require coordinated project status or an environmental impact statement (EIS) for environmental approvals.

Complex schemes may:

  • be in a water plan area where the sustainable diversion limits have been met and more water development would result in limits being exceeded.
  • use water infrastructure that supplies water for purposes other than PHES
  • include a reservoir that could be a referable dam, and will need to be regulated under the Water Supply (Safety and Reliability) Act 2008 (Qld)
  • require coordinated project status or an EIS for environmental approvals.

Special schemes may:

  • be new infrastructure being developed for multiple purposes (e.g. PHES and water supply)
  • include a reservoir that is a referable dam with complex dam safety requirements
  • involve inter-basin transfers – either between water plan subcatchments or between water plan areas
  • requires coordinated project status and EIS with complex environmental approvals under State and Commonwealth legislation.

Water planning

Water plans are developed under the Water Act 2000 to sustainably manage and allocate water resources in Queensland. Taking and interfering with water requires authorisation under the Act.

PHES schemes will be assessed against the objectives and rules in the catchment's water plan.

Best available science

All PHES projects must use the best available information about climate change and catchment hydrology. This includes the department's approved hydrology model for the relevant water plan.

The approved model must be used to formulate project scenarios that demonstrate:

  • water is accounted for – this includes filling of storages and inflows, releases, diversions, and losses
  • water plan performance indicators (environmental flow objectives and water allocation security objectives) are not compromised
  • existing water users will not be impacted, and water will still be available for future uses (unallocated water reserves).

Referable Dams

Projects that are considered complex or special may involve reservoirs that are considered referable dams. The Water Supply (Safety and Reliability) Act requires proposals for dams of a particular size and nature to be assessed for failure impact. Dam safety regulations apply to referable dams. Find out more about referable dams.

Water authorisations for PHES projects

Simple, small scale PHES projects may only require a licence to interfere with the flow of water. If granted, a licence would contain conditions for passing flows to downstream users and the environment.

In some instances, an entitlement to take may be needed to fill and refill the reservoirs, but this will depend on the design of the scheme, and the water plan it falls under. If reservoirs are constructed on a watercourse and filling occurs through natural inflows and through the recirculation process, an entitlement to take may not be needed. Find out more about water licences.

For complex and special PHES projects, a resource operations licence and an operations manual will be needed. Most complex and special PHES projects will require multiple versions of these as it moves from preconstruction through to operation. This process is lengthy and requires significant stakeholder engagement on the part of the proponent. Find out more about resource and distributions operations licences.

There are several other planning requirements and approvals needed for large scale PHES projects. The State Assessment and Referrals Agency or the Office of the Coordinator General can advise you on these. Find out more about renewable energy project planning and approvals.

Contact us

Contact your local business centre to check requirements.

In addition, there are several assessment pathways you can follow for complex renewable energy projects. The Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning (DSDILGP) can assist PHES project proponents map out the development approval processes for more complex large-scale PHES projects.

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